Headlines: August 29th, 2013

Too much time in front of screens – including TV and computer games – combined with a sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on our children’s wellbeing and increasing their anxiety, according to a new Public Health England briefing paper.

The paper, ‘How healthy behaviour supports children’s wellbeing’, identifies a link between children’s screen time and lower levels of wellbeing, showing that higher levels of TV viewing are having a negative effect on children’s wellbeing, including lower self-worth, lower self-esteem and lower levels of self-reported happiness. It also reveals that children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression.

The briefing paper is released as a new Change4Life campaign encourages families to use the back to school period to adopt healthier behaviours – one of which is reducing children’s screen time. ‘Smart Restart’ outlines 5 everyday changes for families to focus on for the next 6 weeks to half term, including reducing screen time, eating healthier lunches and being more active.

The briefing reveals that children doing more physical activity are more likely to concentrate better in school, enjoy good relationships with classmates, and display lower levels of worry, anxiety and depression. However over 70% of young people in the UK do not undertake the recommended level of one hour’s physical activity each day and just over 20% of UK children engage in more than an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, placing the UK 10th out of 29 OECD countries.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s Director of Health and Wellbeing said: “There are many complex factors that affect a child’s wellbeing such as the wider environment they live in and their social, financial and family circumstances, but there are also some very simple things we can all do every day with our children to help improve their health and wellbeing.”

He added: “Smart Restart’ provides families with the inspiration and tools to do this. Our goal is to encourage families across England to sign up to Change4Life to make a healthy change to their new term-time routines, which will hopefully then become part of their everyday lives.”

Lil Caprani, Director of Communications, Policy and Campaigns, The Children’s Society said: “When we asked children about their wellbeing as part of our Good Childhood Report, we found a strong association with being active and being happy. Things like cycling, swimming or playing football all had a clear relationship, but simple things like just going for walks were associated with higher wellbeing.”